Technology Revisited and Recharged

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

Our most recent posting addressed some of our insights into the use – or not – of emerging technologies that enhance the image of Jewish organizations and ultimately impact fundraising efforts. We received many follow-up questions, comments and stories about how specific organizations were transitioning into new technologies so we felt compelled to provide a few more thoughts on utilizing both new and old technologies.

Adjusting to new technologies seems somewhat traumatic to many Jewish executives as well as their leaders, judging on the lackluster use of proven and commonplace components of contemporary technology. Facebook and Twitter are household realities and every non-profit should be aggressively embracing these social media innovations as a daily part of organizational life. Every non-profit must have an internet presence and a web site is a changing entity … no longer just “brochure-ware.”

Beyond social media, however, are other basic tools for the “technology toolbox:”a payment processing plan and reliable software as well as a willingness to be nimble and contemporary.

Old technology does not necessary mean bad technology. But what shocked us were the various stories that came our way about non-profits who still refuse to accept credit card payments. We contend that credit card payments are a user-friendly and convenient approach to facilitate support and should cover any financial transaction, including campaign payments, dues, and tickets for special events or purchases through a gift shop.

We have even recommended to our synagogue clients the need to address their cash flow issues by introducing a program of dues and other fees paid via credit cards in ten equal installments rather than sending out monthly bills – a timely and costly procedure – and forcing institutional struggles with cash flow issues throughout the fiscal year. Equalize payments from members, make payments easier, and be more concerned with facilitating easy systems. The banking costs will decline because of volume and institutional management systems will become more simplified.

One of our readers asked if we approved of an organization accepting campaign gifts with credit cards, citing a request from a donor earlier this year to make a $20,000 donation by using a credit card. The organization thought long and hard about the request, ultimately agreed, but that delay caused the donor to wonder aloud about the contemporary approaches the organization was taking regarding other business practices.

In our previous article, we discussed the ever-present “give now” button, a simple device that should be an essential feature of every non-profit’s web site today. We do not understand why so many Jewish non-profits fight the realities of modern business life, noting that every commercial outfit we see has a “buy now” option on its web site. Our strong recommendation: make it easier to support your agency and look for ways to facilitate inbound cash flow.

Credit cards have been around for over 60 years, which is old for technology standards but online merchant accounts are relatively new. Online merchant accounts are the perfect way to blend old technology with newer technology. PayPal, Google Checkout or other online merchant account services exist to interface with website and other payments by members or donors. For example, any organization can easily encourage constituents to visit the web site and then pay dues, make donations, send payments for educational programs, and pay for organizational events. By offering online payment abilities to constituents, every organization is allowing constituents to send money by utilizing a computer at any time. They receive instant receipts, minimize office work and make a donor feel good.

Perhaps the newest iteration of the credit card processing system utilizes the cell phone as the “credit card machine.” This product is called “Square” ( Developed by Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey, it calls for the donors to download a special application to a Smart-phone/Blackberry. A member of the non-profit organization can then accept credit card numbers and the payment. Monies get deposited directly into a bank account that the organization sets up. The donor receives a free swiping tool to attach to the cell phone. Square has no monthly or annual costs, only a small transactional cost.

As a result of the questions and comments, we suggest an organizational technology audit, an evaluation of steps to introduce state-of-the-art aspects on how an agency embraces and uses technology. This study – probably directed by an outside expert – will identify priorities beyond hardware and software needs, web site enhancements, and record-keeping systems but these areas are the basics for remaining contemporary, possibly reducing costs, and taking advantage of innovations that are holding your agency back.

We want to continue this discussion by offering three essential observations about technology, especially focusing on fundraising and management:

  1. Be organized and forward-thinking when considering the impact of technology on systems. This means investing in proper software that can propel the organization forward. Think about better ways to facilitate support, address cash flow needs, and reflect a contemporary agency.
  2. Rapid technology advances are here to stay. In-house capabilities as well as outside resources need to be reviewed regularly … at least annually.
  3. Embrace opportunities that updated technology can provide. Easier-to-use software programs make record-keeping far easier today, even though using the comfortable standby Excel is no longer the irreplaceable tool in everyone’s repertoire. Much more sophisticated options exist for campaign management today and will ultimately make life easier and better for fundraising initiatives. Campaign workers are demanding more historical information prior to their reaching out to potential donors so development officers need to consider what donor data are critical and how to retrieve basic information. Concurrently, larger non-profits usually have larger budgets for technology but most options are much more affordable than ever before.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook. Twitter: @EHLConsultGrp